12 May 2016

Hong Kong coach Leigh Jones has made just two changes for this week’s Asia Rugby Championship match against South Korea from the squad that opened the competition with a loss to Japan last Saturday.

The changes, while statistically minor, underline Jones’s priorities for the ARC - yet to be achieved: to ensure a stable and productive set-piece through the forward pack and generate greater momentum behind Hong Kong’s attacks through the back line.

Rohan Cook is set to make his season debut after coming in to the front row at tight-head prop for Korea, replacing Jack Parfitt. The second change is positional with Lex Kaleca starting at inside centre forcing last week’s starter Lee Jones to the bench.

“The two problem areas for us against Japan were the scrum and our inability to generate go-forward ball and we have made the changes with these issues in mind. Rohan has been brought in to strengthen us up front, while Lex is a powerful runner who can give us a bit more physicality going forward in launching our attacks from the back-line,” said Jones.

“Everything we want to do depends on the quality of ball we generate. To ensure that quality ball we really have to have improvement at the set piece and breakdown against South Korea. Our lineout worked fairly effectively against Japan but the scrums were an issue.

“South Korea pose a similar challenge to Japan in that they are always a big, heavy outfit and we need to nullify that strength for them,” said Jones.

Cook will partner Kowloon duo Adam Fullgrabe and Jamie Tsang in the front row with locks Adrian Griffiths and Paul Dwyer retaining their starting places, as do flanker Toby Fenn and No.8 Dan Falvey. Nick Hewson will again captain the squad from flanker.

Jones has also maintained his five-three forwards-to-backs split on the bench and with the same forwards from last week. Hooker Lachlan Chubb and props Leon Wei Hon Sum and Alex Ng Wai Shing are the front row reserves, while Jack Delaforce and James Cunningham support the second and back rows.

A largely unchanged back line sees Jamie Hood once again partnering fly-half Ben Rimene with Kaleca and Jamie Robinson at the centres and last week’s back-three trio of Salom Yiu Kam Shing and Ryan Meacheam on the wings and Alex McQueen at full-back. Reserves include scrum-half Cado Lee Ka To, who was praised by Jones for his impact coming off the bench against Japan, fly-half Niall Rowark and Jones.

“The guys are disappointed after last week. We went into the Japan match a bit unknowingly with their new squad but we were positive about the opportunity to get a result and we didn’t get it. We are very focused on delivering those results now against South Korea,” Jones said ahead of the team’s departure today.

Captain Nick Hewson echoed Jones’s comments, saying, “We were disappointed in ourselves to be honest. We felt we let ourselves down by letting Japan score those early tries, especially when we had been focused on getting off to a fast start. But there wasn't much in it outside of the first and last ten minutes against Japan and I think we will be much better now for having that game under our belts,” said Hewson.

Hewson is again calling on his comrades to produce a fast start as a key to unlocking Korea:

“They are going to be up for it after their big loss in week one. They are at home in front of their crowd and playing for a new coaching staff so they will definitely be up for it. I don’t think there is anything more motivating for them after coming off an 85-0 loss to Japan than beating us. They have a lot of experienced players and have beaten us before so they know they can do it.”

Last year, Hong Kong split their two matches with Korea in the full round-robin tournament, being pipped at home but returning the favour in Incheon when Hong Kong won by a single point on a last-minute try from Salom Yiu.

“Every time I’ve played Korea they look to get a big start and build off any early momentum they can generate. They have good loose forwards and some big guys that carry the ball well, they’re sharp on the wings and they thrive off broken play.

“We need to deny them that with a fast start of our own. We want to be more aggressive and to attack their spine by putting real pressure on their key players. We want to play a high-tempo game and get that go forward ball going early to try and break them down a bit, so we’ll need to get out of the blocks fast,” said Hewson.

Hong Kong XV v South Korea (Asia Rugby Championship Round 3, 14 May 2016):

1. Adam FULLGRABE, 2. Jamie TSANG, 3. Rohan COOK, 4. Adrian GRIFFITHS, 5. Paul DWYER, 6. Nicholas HEWSON (captain), 7. Toby FENN, 8. Daniel FALVEY, 9. James HOOD, 10. Ben RIMENE, 11. YIU Kam Shing, 12. Lex KALECA, 13. James ROBINSON, 14. Ryan MEACHEAM, 15. Alex McQUEEN. Reserves: 16. Lachlan CHUBB, 17. Leon WEI Hon Sum, 18. Alex NG Wai Shing, 19. James CUNNIGNHAM, 20. Jack DELAFORCE, 21. Lee JONES, 22. Cado LEE Ka To, 23 Niall ROWARK.